This is the original proposal we submitted to the USF Graduate School:

OBJECTIVE of Proposal:

The theory and science of complexity can powerfully inform the development of sustainable communities. This proposal will enable the university-community collaborations that are naturally emerging in the Tampa Bay area to grow and mutually inform one another, in order to lead the nation in developing complexity approaches to community sustainability. This project will support the emergence of local expertise by developing a complexity hub, developing inter-related resources for complexity-informed research, education, and practice regarding community development / sustainability, and providing complexity education / training for graduate students at USF. Research, education and practice will develop in direct response to locally identified issues, assets and needs in Hillsborough and Sarasota counties. Through an emergent process of discovery and ongoing development involving students, faculty, local networks / agencies, governments, and a diversity of community members, this project will become an example of the very phenomenon that the USF Interdisciplinary Initiative aims to investigate and promote.


The Theory and Science of Complexity
The theory and science of Complexity can powerfully inform the development of sustainable communities. When a community is conceptualized as a complex adaptive system, it is recognized as a dynamic network of diverse agents interacting with one another and the environment to co-evolve over time (Agar, 2005, 2004a, 2004b). “Agents” are the people or entities that have the capacity to change intentionally and thereby influence one another and the evolution of a system (McKelvey, 1999). Complexity emphasizes processes of self-organization among agents as the central means of fostering the ongoing health, resilience and hardiness of a system, whether that system is a family, an organization, or a community (Capra, Juarrero, & Sotolongo, 2007).
Although the complexity approach may seem intuitive to people who focus on community organizing and sustainability efforts, it typically requires an overriding of deeply held mental models about community development and systems change that have been imported from traditional social science and the business world. Traditional, “Newtonian” science emphasizes linearity assumes that a whole system can be understood through a detailed analysis of all its parts. Traditional business models reflect this orientation by emphasizing the development of highly detailed master plans created by experts, followed by the disciplined implementation of these plans to achieve pre-specified outcomes in order to confirm the “achievement” of sustainability. Emphasis traditionally is placed on directing processes, preventing deviations from plans, eliminating environmental threats and maintaining stability (Olson & Eoyang, 2001).
In contrast, a complexity approach assumes that cause-effect pathways are innumerable and multi-directional and a whole system is more than a sum of its parts. Because agents have free will and the environment is continually changing, individual and system behaviors are often unpredictable and uncontrollable. Facilitating the ongoing health and sustainability of a system therefore involves facilitating its ability to self-organize in continually adaptive, flexible and responsive ways (Stacey, 2003). Sustainability is about cultivating relationships, assets, strengths, and capital to enable perpetual “goodness of fit.”

Complexity Initiatives across the United States
Complexity science is already being studied and applied by the federal government as well as numerous universities, independent research institutions, and private foundations (Sanders & McCabe, 2003). Federal agencies that are now actively applying complexity include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Justice, State, and Transportation. More than ten universities in the United States have established centers for the study of complexity. Duke University now offers a Graduate Certificate Program in Nonlinear and Complex Systems, and UCLA, which has developed the Center for Human Complex Systems, is internationally recognized for pioneering research on modeling and simulating human behavior to inform decision-making in business and government.
What does not yet exist, but could be developed through the proposed project, is a joint university-community center focused on complexity and community sustainability.

Local Readiness for the Application of Complexity
Developing a center for complexity will support local community sustainability efforts that are presently emerging. Over the past six months, a group of faculty members, staff and students from various departments and disciplines at USF, together with professionals from various fields and sectors in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota areas, have been meeting informally through a “Complexity Brownbag” to explore the application of complexity theory / science to various systems development efforts. This has led to the discovery of a growing number of local complexity-related efforts already underway. Here are a few examples:

Hillsborough County:
· The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County (CBHC) is funding centers to facilitate neighborhood-based self-organizing and to cultivate coordinated educational, social, environmental and economic capital. It is developing advocacy strategies and information technologies to strengthen system feedback processes so that the community is responsive to diverse and changing needs in order to facilitate the health and well-being of local children and their families.
· The Department of Defense has assigned Mr. John Navarro, Major (Ret.), USAF to serve the MacDill Air Force Base community as the designated Family Advocacy Outreach Manager. Major Navarro (Ret.) finds that facilitating community sustainability is uniquely challenging because it involves the diverse military community, military members are frequently deployed, and the community spans a large geographic area beyond the base. Furthermore, collaboration with government at all levels is necessary to support homeland security.
Sarasota County:
· SCOPE is a non-profit organization for community engagement in Sarasota. It conducts research to assist residents in recognizing local patterns and changing needs and encourages active involvement in community decision-making. It emphasizes the growth of social capital within neighborhoods and has been discussing complexity approaches to sustainability with USF faculty, recently emphasizing cultural relations, the growth of educational capital and engagement of local artistic creativity.
· Sarasota County Government, a longtime leader in the state of Florida on issues of sustainability, has been considering the relevance of complexity science to various county-based efforts to address local issues including affordable housing, the public library system, policy-making processes and community building.
· A variety of complexity-informed research projects are currently funded and underway at FMHI to examine issues relating to systems supporting community mental health.
· The Department of Communication is assisting MOSI in responding to emergent social dynamics as the demographics of museum visitors are changing, and also in identifying the changing role that science centers might play in fostering community sustainability.
· The Department of Architecture and Community Design is helping Tampa Bay citizens to identify ways in which redevelopment of local built and natural environments can contribute to the growth of social capital for community sustainability.
· Faculty in the Department of Government and International Affairs are involved in the development of participatory and web-based technologies to support citizen involvement in governmental affairs in various domains and at various levels.
· Many of the research methodologies that are indicated for the study of Complex Adaptive Systems (e.g. action research, qualitative inquiry, design charrette, data mining, and modeling multi-agent systems) are being taught across various USF departments by the partners submitting this proposal.

The Proposed Project
The proposed effort will enable the university-community collaborations that are naturally emerging to grow and mutually inform one another, in order to develop complexity approaches to community sustainability, thereby becoming an example of the very phenomenon that the USF Interdisciplinary Initiative aims to investigate and promote. It will include the following:
1. Developing a USF / Sarasota - Tampa Bay Complexity Hub
In order to facilitate the development of a local community organized around applications of complexity, a “jointly operated hub” is needed for the gathering of interested individuals and the exchange of resources, information and support. A “Complexity Hub” will be developed through the continuation of the Complexity Brownbag, the joint hosting of a quarterly complexity lecture series (available afterward in webcast format), and the further development of a corresponding website focused on the application of complexity to community sustainability. These efforts will support the development of faculty, graduate students and community members and facilitate the identification of external funding opportunities.
2. Developing complexity resources relating to community sustainability
Sanders and McCabe (2003) identified three broad categories of complexity activity occurring across institutions, which they termed the “research model,” “education model” and “business model.” The proposed project will contribute to university/community sustainability by developing inter-related resources in all three models. University and community faculty, together with graduate students involved in this project, will integrate research methodologies from various disciplines to develop holistic descriptions of local communities as Complex Adaptive Systems. Education resources will be developed to include one graduate-level course specifically focused upon the theory and science of complexity, as well as a parallel continuing education workshop tailored for community members interested in the topic, co-developed by university and community faculty involved in the project. In keeping with the “business model,” the project will create and adapt complexity-informed leadership and consultation tools and techniques to enable local organizations, governments and communities to respond with greater flexibility to internal changes as well as changes in the environment. These tools and techniques will be co-created and piloted locally by university and community partners, graduate students, and other local community members, in order to ensure that they develop and evolve in response to real-world local questions and needs. Finally, the project will host a national conference on Developing Communities as Complex Adaptive Systems, inviting international experts on complexity research, education and business/consultation and featuring local examples of complexity-informed community sustainability efforts. This conference may generate income to support the Center, and conference proceedings will be compiled to produce a book edited by the project partners. These various efforts can then lead to the development of proposals to be submitted to various foundations with resonant initiatives, including the National Science Foundation, W.T. Grant Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, to name a few.
3. Providing complexity education / training for graduate students
Graduate students will be supported in their development as complex systems thinkers through a combination of didactics, practice opportunities, community application and ongoing reflective supervision. Graduate students will be invited to apply and will be accepted from any of the departments represented by project partners. Students will participate in the program for a length of at least one year. Up to six students will be invited to participate for academic credit, and beginning in the second year, the program will provide financial support for two students. A complexity seminar will enable students to meet weekly with rotating project partners to learn and practice complexity research and consultation skills in order to develop these skills prior to application in the “real world.” Each student will be paired with a community partner—CBHC, MacDill AFB, or Sarasota County / SCOPE-- to conduct a complex systems description/analysis of the community using complexity-related research methodologies, and to develop/implement at least one individualized intervention to support community sustainability. Allison Pinto (a proposal partner co-located at USF and CBHC with past experience as training director of an APA-accredited internship program) will serve as Project Manager and as such continue to coordinate the weekly Complexity Brownbag; she will also provide graduate students with weekly reflective group supervision to help them cultivate an integrated cognitive-affective-behavioral understanding of complexity that can be applied to community sustainability.


Agar, M. (2005, March). Turning the complicated into the complex: how the “new science” changes social research and organizational development. Plenary lecture delivered at The 18th Annual Research Conference: A System of Care for Children’s Mental Health: Expanding the Research Base, March 6 – 9, 2005, Tampa, Florida.
Agar, M. (2004a). We have met the other and we’re all nonlinear: Ethnography as a nonlinear dynamic system. Complexity, 10(2), 16 – 24.
Agar, M. (2004b). An anthropological problem, a complex solution. Human Organization, 63(4), 411 – 418.
Capra, F., Juarrero, A. & Sotolongo, P. (Eds). (2007). Reframing Complexity: Perspectives from the North and South. Mansfield, MA: ISCE Publishing.
McKelvey, B. (1999). Complexity theory in organization science: Seizing the promise or becoming a fad? Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 1(1), 5 – 32.
Olson, E.E. & Eoyang, G. H. (2001). Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons from Complexity Science. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Sanders, T.I. and McCabe, J.A. (2003) The Use of Complexity Science: A Report to the U.S. Department of Education. Washington D.C.: Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy.
Stacey, R. D. (2003). Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics: The Challenge of Complexity: Fourth Edition. London: Prentice Hall.